Leaving Mooloolaba seems like a long time ago now as I sit here typing this blog in Cairns. We travelled the 1680km and finally arrived in Cairns on Sunday to meet with Jen and Nick and have a few days out of the camper at Sue and Eric's lovely home in Edgehill in Cairns. Last time I wrote we were on the verge of ticking off one of our 'bucket list' items, visiting the Great Barrier Reef. We headed out at 7am by courtesy bus to the marina where our large cruise ship was awaiting to take us out to the reef. On boarding the ship we all rushed quickly to the top deck (of three decks) to get what we imagined would be the prize spot to sit. It was a beautiful view from the top deck as we slowly meandered through the marina and out of the harbour of airlie beach heading for hook reef. Once clear of the marina the captain put his foot down and fired up the large engines and we were off. Our prize location quickly became a very windy and very cold spot to sit and we all ventured back down in to the lounge deck for morning cuppas and to hear a little more about our journey. The trip to the reef was to take 3.5 hours via daydream and hayman islands and one other resort before landing at the pontoon on hook reef. On the way out there the crew briefed us on what activities were available to us to experience. If we were prepared to pay for it we had the option of a helicopter ride over the reef, a massage, a guided snorkel tour and a scuba dive. Bec and I reviewed all of the options and decided we would give the girls a guided snorkel tour and Bec and I would do a scuba dive. Remember this is the girl who was terrified of snorkelling only a matter of weeks ago now signing up to go up to 6 metres below sea level on a scuba dive. We had a briefing on the ship which was a bit of a challenge with Gus clearly not interested in what the gentleman was trying to explain but we managed to get the gist of it. While we were receiving the briefing the girls were visited by the onboard marine biologist who sat with the girls for quite some time answering all of their questions and pointing out some facts about the reef and what to look for when they go snorkelling.
We had some morning tea on the trip and did our best to evade the oncoming sea sickness, the girls were fine but tired after the early start. After what seemed like an eternity we finally saw in the distance the pontoon appear like a mirage on the horizon. There was an immediate buzz in the cabin as people started jumping up to get a headstart and get on board. We were very fortunate only to have about 50 people on board a ship that caters for over 300! Bec and I had received our scuba dive times, unfortunately we had to go at separate times due to having Gus on board. We arrived at the pontoon and immediately went on the submerged boat to have a tour of the reef. After this the girls went on the glass bottom boat and I went for my scuba dive. The dive was pretty exhilarating, the fear of doing something you have never tried before combined with the obvious lack of skill and experience should something go wrong down there. We got our stinger suits on, our tank, flippers and goggles and heading down the stairs into the scuba chamber to have a quick briefing and test session before heading out down to the reef. The dive went for about 30 minutes and was amazing to get down below and see what happens under the surface. The reef had been quite badly damaged by a recent cyclone and the overall visibility was relatively poor but nevertheless the whole experience was one that Bec and I had wanted to do for a long time. It was amazing. After I returned Bec was pretty much straight into her dive and went through the whole routine. She had a few nervous moments waiting for her instructor and another nervous diver who eventually pulled out after several attempts to get started. I think this probably helped Bec take the focus of her own worries as she watched this poor lady battle her fears. Bec was a champion as always and handled the dive like a seasoned professional, coming out of the water with a smile from ear to ear. Meanwhile the girls who had spent their whole time going up and down the on board water slide had to get ready for their guided snorkel tour. They were very excited and had a lovely young girl take them out to the reef with their snorkels, goggles and flippers on. They had a great time and learnt a lot about our precious reef. The water was a bit choppy, the wind quite cool and the visibility average but the day was still a day to remember and one that we were very excited to have had the opportunity to experience. We packed up our gear and boarded the boat for the long road home. The crew put on the movie Nemo which kept Gus quiet for most of the way home as Indy stretched out on the couch upstairs and took a little nap.
The next few days in Airlie Beach were fairly quiet and recovering from our big tour of the reef. The park was good for the kids and they enjoyed the water slides, the park, the mini-golf and the outdoor movies. We packed up cammie and decided to push up towards Townsville. We made pretty good progress and upon arriving in Townsville decided to stop for a quick lunch and stretch stop and then head on to Mission Beach. All up it was a 6.5 hour drive, our longest yet but we were pleased to get the distance covered and to pull up at Mission Beach. As always the internet images filled us with great expectations of what we were to experience. The park was set on the beach only a road width away from the beach. The park had some good facilities for the kids and overall the park was fine. The beach was beautiful except for the fact that you couldn't swim there due to the presence of crocs and stingers. Mission Beach is famous for the presence of the Cassowary. All the way in on the drive are signs asking people to slow down and warning of cassowary crossings. After several days with not so much of a sniff of a cassowary we thought it was all a big conspiracy to lure in the unknowing tourist. We spent a day heading out to Tully and visiting the large golden gumboot. On a flight several years ago I was fortunate enough to see the documentary on the making of the gumboot which was a seachange meets grass roots (both ABC television series) documentary of a small town trying to make an impact on the tourist market. It was very funny and provided a special flavour to the visit to Tully. The gumboot stands over 6 metres tall and represents the highest amount of rainfall experienced in one year in Tully. We were able to walk up the gumboot to the top and look out, it was good fun. We also decided to go for a drive to Tully Gorge about 50 kms out of Tully. It was quite a drive but well worth it. Tully Gorge national park was an amazing sight with this massive wall of water meandering down amongst the rocks and trees. After spending some time on the coast it was refreshing to see a natural freshwater spot like this which was just beautiful.
As we drove back to Mission Beach we had nearly arrived when out of the corner of my eye I saw it, they mythical creature, the never to be seen Cassowary. It was slowly walking along a driveway with its two young birds in tow. Bec, like Peter Parker jumped out of the car still moving and ran into the bushes after the cassowary camera at the ready. She managed to get some photos and we had our cassowary experience, quite unexpected. The next day for homeschool Maggie wanted to research the cassowary to find out a bit more about it. It turns out that they are quite rare in Northern Queensland and were in fact badly affected by motor vehicle deaths, hence all the signage. They are apparently one of the most dangerous birds alive having even killed a 16 year old boy. The boy happened to be trying to beat it to death with a club when the bird in defence cut his throat with its very large and sharp claw. The boy died from his injuries. They are also very protective of their young and it was advised to keep your distance. Fortunately for us our naivety didn't cause us any damage and we survived our cassowary experience, more luck than good judgement. Peter Parker always gets her shot though, even risking life and limb to get it!
We met up with a family from the UK who we had been running in to at several places on our trip (one mile beach, Emerald Beach, Airlie Beach and now Mission Beach), they assured us they were not stalking us. The kids were building a good friendship and we asked if they wanted to join us for a bbq that evening. We had a lovely night and the kids had a great time. Stef and Clare and their kids were nice people and we all had a good time together. The next day it was time for us all to push on. We did the usual photo taking and sharing of details and we were off to Cairns. Mission Beach was okay but really didn't make a huge impact on us as an experience. Tully Gorge was a cracker and I think next time we would choose to stay in the National Park there. Because of our efforts to push up to Mission Beach we only had a short drive in to Cairns that day. We timed our trip to arrive at Sue and Eric's just after Jen and Nick got in from their flight and everything worked to plan. Eric had prepared a nice late lunch for us and we all had a great time catching up. That night we slept in a real bed and were glad not to have to set up and pack up cammie for a few days. The next day we ventured down the esplanade at Cairns which despite the lagoon being closed for maintenance there was more than enough activity to keep all of us entertained for the afternoon. The following day we all had a quiet day, Gus was overdue a good sleep and the girls were getting tired after their late night 'Barry Evil' exploits with Popsy and tropical scoppa marathon. We have a couple more days in Cairns before turning and slowly heading for home. Bye for now, Nick, Bec and the crew.